Verner Panton

Panton, Verner (1926-98)
Designer, architect and graphic artist. Training - Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture 1947-51. In the 1960s Panton became one of the most influential European designers. Panton experimented with new materials, moulded plastic and vibrant colours. He often thought in terms of total installations and ‘whole environments’ rather than the individual piece and believed that a piece should be experienced with the body and the senses. Some of Panton’s exhibition environments remain today some of the most psychedelic of the time.

Verner Panton liked to provoke. He thought that people were far too cautious and traditional in their interior design and use of colour in the home. 'People get upset with you if you like colour. As they do with people with imagination too. Most would rather have what they are used to. But I need to exaggerate to get my point across', said Verner Panton of his own design. Precisely his exaggeration and use of colour, especially in Denmark, resulted in Panton not being taken seriously and being regarded just as a flash in the pan. Still, many people are confused when they see Panton's colourful furniture and untraditional lamps, and this would make Panton happy. ‘Janteloven’, i.e. the dislike of anything that posed to be different or better than the norm, was hard on Verner Panton and Danes were simply not ready to replace their traditional furniture with organic forms and the colour orange. Internationally, however, Verner Panton enjoyed great success and many people had no idea that Verner Panton was Danish.


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Verner Panton
Panton was born on the island of Funen in Denmark in 1926. Here he grew up on a farm with his two brothers and three half-brothers. His parents divorced in the mid-1930s. His father was in farming and later made went into business as an innkeeper and publican. There was nothing in Panton's upbringing that indicated he was to become creative, but Panton already knew as a child that it was in this direction he would go. As a boy he dreamt of becoming an artist and painted many watercolours of the beautiful Funen landscape. Encouraged by his parents Panton chose later on to set his sights on architecture, as they thought it was a better route to a more stable income. When he wanted to train as architect he first had to train in a building trade, as was the requirement back then – this turned out to be bricklaying. After training as a bricklayer Panton went to Odense’s technical college for three years (1944 to 1947). During his studies, Panton lived in Odense and here via his circle of friends he came into contact with the Danish Resistance Movement. World War II at that time was part of daily life and Panton actively chose to take part in the resistance. The Germans got wind of this and searched his student room where they found a variety of weapons – luckily though Panton was not at home. The episode however meant that Panton should go into hiding, and happily this went well for him. After the war he moved to Copenhagen where he continued his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Architecture and graduated as architect.

Verner and Tove
At the end of the 1940s Verner Panton met trainee teacher, Tove Kemp. Tove Kemp was Poul Henningsen’s (PH) step-daughter and lived in PH’s family home in Usserød. Verner and Tove fell in love, and when Tove after six months became pregnant Verner Panton moved into the house in Usserød. This marked the beginning of PH’s and Verner’s friendship. Tove and Verner, however, divorced after a year, and Verner moved out of the house. After this, contact between PH and Verner Panton was greatly reduced. A few years after the divorce Tove and Verner’s son died. The tragedy led however to renewed contact between the two families, and especially the contact between Verner Panton and PH became strong. It was to a large degree due to PH that Verner Panton became interested in lighting and designing lamps. Through PH, Verner Panton met his other great mentor Arne Jacobsen. He was given a job as assistant at Arne Jacobsen’s design studio and this period, according to Panton, was the most educational of his entire training. At the time he was employed, Arne Jacobsen, among other things, was in the process of designing the famous Ant chair (Model – Ant 3101). Even though Panton has in no way taken honour for this design, he was among those who worked on the design for the Ant. He was at the studio for two years and subsequently set up for himself.

Panton together with his student friend Hans Ove Barfoed fitted out a VW camper van as a design studio. The interior of the camper van contained both a sleeping area and design studio for the two architects. The mobile studio meant that they could travel through Europe to gather inspiration and make good contacts with potential producers. The trip and the van were among other things financed by an invention by Panton himself. Shortly before the trip, Panton invented a shirt without buttons. Panton sold the idea to a shirt manufacturer and in this way earned the money for his new mobile office.

At the end of the 1950s his friend was bought out of the studio, while Verner continued his life on the road. When he was in Denmark he parked his van close to friends, and enjoyed an unfettered life. His career also began to take shape and various successes followed in the years to come. He completed a number of complete interior design solutions, for example, his father’s inn on Funen. It was for his father’s inn that e.g. the Cone Chair was made. Father and son’s respective re-modelling and interior became a huge attraction and brought with it more work. Even though Panton was young and successful, and both Louis Poulsen and Fritz Hansen produced his designs, there were more and more conservative manufacturers and colleagues who turned their back on him. Even though this is sure to have bothered him, it did not stop him. Anyway, however, in 1961 he decided to move abroad permanently, and settled in Basel. Here he came into contact with furniture manufacturer Willy Fehlbaum, who produced Herman Miller products under licence. They entered into collaboration and the next year Verner Panton had his own design studio with six employees.

In love again
On a holiday in Tenerife he met Marianne Pherson Oertenheim. Verner Panton fell in love with Marianne, and when this was requited they married and had a daughter Carin. They became an unusual and highly respected partnership, and travelled round in the USA and Europe, but with their base in Basel, Switzerland. Here, they created contacts and relationships with manufacturers. Marianne held track of Verner’s life and appointments, and this suited him just fine.

Many successes followed in the years to come. Pantons's famous and epoch-making S Chair made from seamless plastic and lamps made from scallop shells represent just some of these successes.

In the 1970s Verner Panton harvested some of the financial success he had achieved and bought a house in Switzerland and a holiday cottage in Hornbæk in Denmark. However, he moved back to Basel in the 1980s and lived there in a fine penthouse apartment. During the 1990s the holiday cottage in Hornbæk was replaced too, this time with an apartment in Det Gule Pakhus ('The Yellow Warehouse') in Copenhagen. Verner Panton lived alternately in Basel and Det Gule Pakhus. He was really content with living there, and looked forward to living there permanently at some point, and thereby ending his days in Denmark. Unfortunately Verner Panton died in 1998 and so never had time to enjoy his retirement. Verner Panton died at the time he was setting up his first big exhibition in Denmark with his own designs. The exhibition opened a few days after his death and became a huge success. Verner Panton received the recognition from his homeland that he deserved.

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